A tragic loss brings Kevin back into the engaged Sophie's life, but is she the love and marriage he's destined to have -- or who he fell into bed with?
On the one hand, we're kind of glad "This Is Us" is taking next week off, because we are not read for whatever is in store for us with the Kate chapter of the latest Big Three trilogy.
This week was almost a pleasant diversion of the rising tension of Randall's break-in and subsequent breakdown last week, even as it just painted a sad picture. At the same time, this was the best Kevin episode we've ever gotten.
It did everything we've needed to see since the premiere in humanizing him across all of the time zones. At the same time, it showed us a greater depth in the relationship between Kevin and Sophie that's painting a picture like maybe they are the great love story of this modern era (sorry Randall and Beth).
Or maybe not.
But revisiting that great life through all of Kevin's best times showed the depth of his heart and his capacity for decency; something that was in short supply with his own family a lot of the time. And as he said toward the end of the episode, he's finally ready. Ready for Sophie, ready for love and ready to be the father he's always wanted.
He's ready to be Jack, basically, and he's looking for his Rebecca. Is it Sophie? As is always the case on "This Is Us," it's quite a bit more complicated than that.
As we do every week, we're going to single out the show's most powerful moments, scoring them by how many tissues we tore through just to watch them. Believe us, these are happy tears of anguish.
Sophie's phone call to Kevin while he was doing reshoots with M. Night Shyamalan was to tell him that her mother died. Lost and adrift, she called on Kevin because she knew that he had some understanding of that kind of loss. Her husband, she said, was great with the logistical stuff, but not so much with the heart. In fact, throughout the episode, it seems Sophie made a choice for stability in her fiance rather than the great passion that someone like Kevin offers (with its good and bad sides).
And yet, when she faltered at the funeral, it was Kevin who helped stabilize her with a look. It's a testament to their years and years together, as well as his intimate connection with her mother, Claire. It turns out her new man, Grant, barely knew her mother at all, and never as the vibrant and vivacious woman she once was. A woman who actually shares a lot of traits with Kevin in her zest for life, without always thinking things through.
2 tissues (unbreakable bonds)
The scenes between young Kevin after his football injury and Claire were palpable and powerful in showing just how much he needed her in his life at this moment. While he had this angst and tension within his own family, Claire seemed to offer her unconditional love and support (seemed to being the key). She was his biggest cheerleader and she believed in him more than he did.
The beauty was that she was able to inject some of that love and belief into him, filling the gaps where doubt had eaten away at his self-confidence. While she struggled to get along with Sophie -- in large part because of her recklessness with money -- Kevin appeared to absolutely adore her. She was the emotional rock he needed when his own family simply couldn't be.
Until this moment, Sophie had largely been a blank slate hanging from Kevin's arm in those flashback sequences. Seeing her frustration with her mother helped flesh out both characters, showing that everyone is human and deeply flawed in their own unique ways, but it doesn't minimize their value.
Through key scenes throughout their relationship, we see how much Sophie and Kevin loved one another, and how they brought a sense of normalcy and acceptance into each other's lives. We loved that this ongoing joke carried on from their childhood into their adulthood, cleverly hidden from viewers with no explanation as to what they were talking about until the power went out in the theater.
For years, Kevin and Sophie had been coming up with their own endings for "Good Will Hunting," and even vowed never to watch it. After Sophie called Kevin to rescue her from the emotional drain of the funeral reception, that they finally sat and watched it together gave a painful kind of closure to their relationship. It was reluctant on both sides, but Kevin has grown enough now to allow Sophie her choices, even if they tear him up inside.
And he got his chance to perhaps close that chapter for himself emotionally when he spoke over Claire's grave. Earlier we'd seen him ask for Sophie's grandmother's ring, wanting to give it to her. But Claire, for all she loved him, knew that he wasn't ready to be the man who could make the kind of commitment and bonds that ring had earned in its life. And she was right.
Finally, Kevin knows that, just as he knows that he's ready now. Now that it's too late. It's possible that their paths will cross again, and they may well be fated to be together, but it's just as possible that Sophie is not the mother of the child he's going to have very soon.
If that's the case, than this was a beautiful chapter of closure. Sophie may not be happy in the life she's chosen, but it's her life and he's grown enough to let her have it. And while he knows he's ready to be the man she deserves now in her life, it's not something he can force. Now, Sophie looking at that ring meaningfully may well mean that we're not done with their story yet.
The romantic in use hopes this is the case, because even the fits and starts of their long relationship together can be a part of their beautiful story (we've still so much to learn about their marriage and divorce) should things take a dramatic turn for both of them within the next year.
What would be even more stunning is if Kevin were to wind up with the woman he woke up next to when Randall called. We seriously don't see him and Madison working as a long-term thing; this was just two people processing their respective losses through sex. At least, that's how we're seeing it.
But what's important about this moment is that before it showed the "one step back" for Kevin's "two steps forward," he continued to show what kind of maturity and growth he's been developing. "You should look at yourself as the person who's willing to stay," he tells her when she laments that she always gets dumped.
Kevin, on the other hand, has never been dumped. It's not a humble brag, because it's proof that when the going gets tough, Kevin gets going. That said, Zoe kind of dumped him so he wasn't totally truthful there, but we're sure the majority of his relationships went how he said.
But Kevin isn't the only one showing more depth and growth, as this was the most real and vulnerable we've ever seen Madison. There's more depth to her than we've seen so far. She's proven one of the more compelling side characters since the beginning. That said, though, we're pretty sure that Kate wouldn't love them falling into bed, either, especially at this point in her life. We're not convinced this is for the long haul, but it still proves how much Kevin has grown as a person.
Oh we are dreading this next episode. Lurking in the background of these past two episodes have been Kate on the phone fighting with Mark. We know from previous episodes that he is a bad dude in her life and that something traumatic happened between them. And now the moment is upon us. Is this what turned Kate back to food as a coping mechanism?
Is it sexual assault? Physical assault? Whatever it is, we again saw that there is more to Kevin than what often appears on the surface when he quickly got on board with Rebecca's panicked missive that they have to go get Kate from the cabin. She and Mark went there after a fight with Rebecca, and then Kate called crying.
We don't want to do this next week, but it is heartening to know that the Pearsons are there for one another. Kevin called Randall, who dropped his own plans in a heartbeat. Rebecca's party cancelled. The only thing that mattered in that moment was that Kate was in trouble, and that's all they cared about. It's beautiful.
Almost as beautiful as the absolute ache in the way Justin Hartley delivered this one-word line. Sophie thanks Kevin for coming and he simply says, "Always." They shared so many little moments like that. And just like that, you can see that no matter what may happen between them, like Kate at the cabin, Sophie is family to Kevin.
There was no hesitation to dropping everything and flying back to Pittsburgh for Claire's funeral. There was respect in standing outside her house with donuts, rather than invade the world she'd built with Grant. And there was no hesitation when Sophie asked him to take her away from that ... for a little while.
Kevin has never stopped loving this girl, and he may never stop loving her. But as much as his longing in this moment is so clearly romantic, his head is winning out over his heart and he's okay with just loving her. He can love her as he does Kate and Randall and Rebecca and even the memories of Claire and Jack. Sophie is a part of him, and that will always be the case.
If the fates aren't aligned for them, maybe the future will allow them to circle back as friends. Or, if nothing else, he'll always see her when the next person dies. And until then, he'll keep her in his heart, as it is evident she'll keep him in his.
Honestly, is it too sappy that this hour really has us wanting them to figure this out and make it work. Theirs really does seem like a love for the ages ... maybe the modern, messed-up ages, but a fairy tale nonetheless.
4 tissues (for its purity)
"This Is Us" takes a one-week hiatus so we can prepare ourselves for Kate's chapter on Tuesday, February 11 at 9 p.m. ET on NBC.